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Michelle Bachelet

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Michelle Bachelet
Michelle Bachelet

Assumed office 
March 11, 2006
Preceded by Ricardo Lagos

Born September 29, 1951
Santiago, Chile
Political party Socialist

Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria (born September 29, 1951) is the current President of Chile, the first woman to hold this position in the country's history. She won the 2006 election in a runoff, beating center-right billionaire businessman and former senator Sebastián Piñera, with 53.5% of the vote. A moderate Socialist, she campaigned on a platform of continuing Chile's free market policies, while increasing social benefits to help reduce the country's gap between rich and poor, one of the largest in the world. Her term was inaugurated on March 11, 2006.

Bachelet—a surgeon, pediatrician and epidemiologist with studies in military strategy—served as Health Minister and Defense Minister under President Ricardo Lagos. She is a separated mother of three and a self-described agnostic, which sets her apart in a predominantly conservative and Catholic country. A polyglot, she speaks Spanish, English, German, Portuguese and French. In 2006, Forbes magazine ranked her as 17th in the list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.[1]


[edit] Life and career

[edit] Early life

Bachelet was born in Santiago, the second child of anthropologist Ángela Jeria Gómez and Air Force Brigadier General Alberto Bachelet Martínez. Her paternal great-great-grandfather, Joseph Bachelet Lapierre, was a French wine merchant from Chassagne-Montrachet who emigrated to Chile with his Parisian wife in 1860 hired as a wine-making expert by the Subercaseaux vineyards. Her paternal great-grandfather, Germán Bachelet, was born in Chile and married to a French-Swiss woman. Of Greek ancestors, her maternal grandfather, Máximo Jeria Chacón, was the first person to receive a degree in agronomic engineering in Chile and funded several agronomy schools in the country.[2]

Much of Bachelet's childhood years were spent traveling around Chile, moving with her family from one military base to another. She attended primary school in Quintero, Cerro Moreno, Antofagasta and San Bernardo. In 1962 she moved with her family to the United States, where her father was assigned to the military mission at the Chilean Embassy in Washington. Her family spent almost two years living in Bethesda, Maryland, where she attended Western Junior High School (now known as Westland Middle School) and learned to speak English fluently.[3] Back in Chile, she graduated from high school in 1969 at Liceo Nº 1 Javiera Carrera, a prestigious girls-only public school, finishing near the top of her class. There, she was president of her class, a member of the school's choir and volleyball teams, and part of a theater group and a music band called Las Clap Clap (which she helped found) that toured through many school festivals. She entered medical school at the University of Chile in 1970, obtaining one of the highest national scores in the university admission test. She originally wanted to study sociology but was prevailed upon by her father to study medicine instead.[4]

[edit] Torture and exile

Facing growing food shortages, the government of Salvador Allende placed Bachelet's father in charge of the Food Distribution Office. When Augusto Pinochet came to power in the September 11, 1973 coup, General Bachelet, refusing exile, was detained at the Air War Academy, under charges of treason. Following months of daily torture at Santiago's Public Prison, on March 12, 1974, he suffered a cardiac arrest that resulted in his death. On January 10, 1975, Bachelet and her mother were detained, and tortured, at Villa Grimaldi, a notorious secret detention center in Santiago.[5] Some days later they were transferred to Cuatro Álamos ("Four Poplars") detention center, where they were held until the end of January. Later in 1975, due to sympathetic connections in the military, both were exiled to Australia, where Bachelet's older brother Alberto had moved in 1969.[6]

In May 1975, Bachelet left Australia and moved to East Germany, to an apartment assigned by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) government in Am Stern, Potsdam; her mother joined her a month later. In October 1976 she began working at a communal clinic in the Babelsberg neighborhood, as a preparation step to continue her medical studies at an East German university. During this period she met architect Jorge Dávalos, another Chilean exile, whom she married in 1977. In January 1978 she went to Leipzig to learn German at the Karl Marx University's Herder Institute (now the University of Leipzig). Her first child with Dávalos, Sebastián, was born there that same year. She returned to Potsdam in September 1978, to continue her medical studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin for two years. Only five months after enrolling as a student, however, she obtained authorization to return to her country.[7]

[edit] Return to Chile

In February 1979 Bachelet returned to Santiago, Chile from East Germany. Her medical school coursework from the GDR was not recognized at the University of Chile (under the control of the military at the time of her return), forcing her to resume her studies from where she had left off before fleeing the country. She graduated as an M.D. in 1982 as one of the best students in her class. Her academic performance and published papers earned her a scholarship to specialize in pediatrics and public health at Children's Hospital Roberto del Río (1983–1986). During this time she also worked at PIDEE (Protection of Children Injured by States of Emergency Foundation), a non-governmental organization helping children of the tortured and missing in Santiago and Chillán. She was head of the foundation's Medical Department between 1986 and 1990. Some time after her second child with Dávalos, Francisca, was born in 1984, she and her husband legally separated.

Between 1985 and 1987 Bachelet had a romantic relationship with Alex Vojkovic Trier[8], a Communist engineer and spokesman for the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, an armed group which among other activities attempted to assassinate Augusto Pinochet in 1986. This affair turned into a minor issue during her presidential campaign, during which she argued that she never supported any of Vojkovic's activities.

In 1990, after democracy was restored in Chile, Bachelet worked for the Ministry of Health's West Santiago Health Service and was a consultant for the Pan-American Health Organization, the World Health Organization and the German Corporation for Technical Cooperation. While working for the National AIDS Commission (Conasida), she met Aníbal Henríquez, a physician, with whom she had her third child, Sofia, born in 1992. Between March 1994 and July 1997, Bachelet worked as Senior Assistant to the Deputy Health Minister.

Driven by an interest in civil-military relations, in 1996 she began studies in military strategy at the National Academy for Strategic and Policy Studies (Anepe) in Chile, obtaining first place in her class. Her student achievement earned her a presidential scholarship, permitting her to continue her studies in the United States at the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, DC, completing a Continental Defense Course in 1997. In 1998 she returned to Chile to work for the Defense Ministry as Senior Assistant to the Defense Minister. She subsequently graduated from a Master's program in military science at the Chilean Army's War Academy.

[edit] Political life

[edit] Socialist Party membership

On her first year as university student, in 1970, Bachelet became a member of the Socialist Youth, then presided by future deputy and now disappeared physician Carlos Lorca. She then joined the Socialist Party of Chile and was politically active during the second half of the 1980s, fighting —though not in the front line— for the re-establishment of democracy in Chile. In 1995 she became part of the party's Central Committee, and from 1998 until 2000 she was an active member of the Political Commission.

In 1996, Bachelet ran against future presidential adversary Joaquín Lavín for the mayorship of Las Condes, a wealthy Santiago suburb. Lavín was elected mayor with nearly 78% of the vote, while she only finished fourth at 2.35%. In the 1999 CPD —Coalition of Parties for Democracy, Chile's governing coalition since 1990— presidential primary, she worked for Ricardo Lagos's nomination, heading the Santiago electoral zone.

[edit] Ministership

Bachelet, as Minister of Defense, meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2002
Bachelet, as Minister of Defense, meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2002

On March 11, 2000 Bachelet—a virtual unknown at the time—was appointed Minister of Health by President Ricardo Lagos. She began with an in-depth reform of the public healthcare system that led to the AUGE plan a few years later. She was also given the task of eliminating waiting lists in the public hospital system within the first 100 days of Lagos's government. Unable to meet this goal, she offered her resignation, which was promptly rejected by the President.

On January 7, 2002 Bachelet was appointed Defense Minister, becoming the first woman to hold this post in a Latin American country and one of the few in the world. While Minister of Defense, she played a key role in the historic 2003 declaration by General Juan Emilio Cheyre, head of the army, that "never again" would the military subvert democracy in Chile. She also oversaw a reform of the military pension system which is commonly viewed as a successful effort and continued with the process of modernization of the Chilean armed forces with the purchasing of new military equipment.

[edit] Presidential candidacy

In late 2004, following a surge of her popularity in opinion polls, Bachelet was asked to become the Socialists' candidate for the presidency[9]. Ángela Jeria, her mother, revealed in an interview that her daughter was hesitant to accept the nomination, but finally agreed because she "couldn't let [her] people down."[10] On October 1 of that year she resigned from her government post in order to begin her campaign.

An open primary scheduled for July 2005 to define the sole presidential candidate of the CPD was canceled after Bachelet's only rival, Christian Democrat Soledad Alvear, a cabinet member in the three CPD administrations, pulled out early due to a lack of support within her own party and in opinion polls.

At the December 2005 election, Bachelet faced the center-right candidate Sebastián Piñera (RN), the right-wing candidate Joaquín Lavín (UDI) and the far-left candidate Tomás Hirsch (JPM). As predicted by opinion polls, she failed to obtain the absolute majority needed to win the election outright, winning 46% of the vote. In the runoff election on January 15, 2006, Bachelet faced Piñera, and won the presidency with 53.5% of the vote, thus becoming her country's first female elected president and the first woman who was not the wife of a previous head of state or political leader to reach the presidency of a Latin American nation in a direct election.

On January 30, 2006, after being declared President-elect by the Electoral Qualifier Tribunal (Tricel), Bachelet announced her cabinet of ministers, which was unprecedentedly composed of an equal number of men and women, as was promised during her campaign. In keeping with the coalition's internal balance of power, she named seven ministers from the Christian Democrat Party (PDC), five from the Party for Democracy (PPD), four from the Socialist Party (PS), one from the Social Democrat Radical Party (PRSD) and three of no party affiliation. In the days that followed, she named the group of deputy ministers and regional intendants, following the same rule of "gender parity."

[edit] Presidency

Bachelet saluting with world leaders at the inauguration ceremony in Valparaíso
Bachelet saluting with world leaders at the inauguration ceremony in Valparaíso

Bachelet was sworn in as President of the Republic of Chile on March 11, 2006, in a ceremony held in a plenary session of the National Congress in Valparaíso, which was attended by a record number of foreign heads of states and delegates.

[edit] Internal issues

Most of Bachelet's first three months in office were spent working on 36 measures she had promised during her campaign to implement during her first 100 days as president. They ranged from simple presidential decrees, such as providing free health care for older patients, to complex bills to reform the social security system and the electoral system.

Bachelet's first political crisis came in late April 2006, when massive high school student demonstrations, unseen in three decades, broke out throughout the country demanding a better education for the poor. (See 2006 student protests in Chile.) These protests and a sharp drop in popularity, forced Bachelet to reshuffle her cabinet after only four months in office— a record in the country's history. (It might be argued that Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle's cabinet reshuffling, on his sixth month in office, is comparable, considering he had a 6-year mandate, two more than Bachelet.)

The final months of 2006 were plagued by reports of alleged misspending of public funds, specially in Chiledeportes, a government-sponsored sports organization. There were also accusations of misappropriation of funds channeled through phantom firms and identity theft to fund congressional campaigns in 2005. The scandal prompted Bachelet to present an anti-corruption plan in late November.

[edit] Foreign relations

Michelle Bachelet invested Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Brasilia
Michelle Bachelet invested Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Brasilia

During her first six months in office, Bachelet faced continuing problems from neighboring Argentina. On July 2006, she sent a letter of protest to president of Argentina Néstor Kirchner, after his government issued a decree increasing export tariffs of natural gas to Chile, which was considered by Bachelet a violation of a tacit bilateral agreement. A month later an old border dispute with Argentina surfaced once again after the neighboring country published some tourist maps featuring a contested territory in southern Chile —known as Campo de Hielo Sur— as its own, violating an agreement not to draw a border over the area.

Chile's October 16, 2006 vote between Venezuela and Guatemala for a two-year, non-permanent, Latin American seat in the UN Security Council developed into a major ideological issue in the country and was seen as a test for Bachelet. The governing coalition was divided between the Socialists—who supported a vote for Venezuela—and the Christian Democrats—who strongly opposed it. Ending months of speculation, the president announced the day before the vote that Chile would abstain, citing as reason a lack of consensus in the region over a single candidate. (See 2006 United Nations Security Council election.)

Continuing the coalition's free-trade strategy, in August 2006, Bachelet signed a free trade agreement with the People's Republic of China, the Asian country's first with a Latin American nation. In October 2006, she signed a multilateral trade deal with New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, known as P4. She was also in advanced free-trade talks with several other countries, including Japan and Australia. Regionally, she signed bilateral free trade agreements with Panama, Peru and Colombia.

[edit] Cabinet

Office Name Party Term
Minister of Interior Andrés Zaldívar Larraín
Belisario Velasco Baraona
March 11-July 14, 2006
July 14, 2006-present
Minister of Foreign Relations Alejandro Foxley Rioseco PDC March 11, 2006-present
Minister of National Defense Vivianne Blanlot Soza PPD March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Finance Andrés Velasco Brañes Ind. March 11, 2006-present
Minister Secretary General of the Presidency Paulina Veloso Valenzuela PS March 11, 2006-present
Minister Secretary General of Government Ricardo Lagos Weber PPD March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Economy, Promotion, & Reconstruction Ingrid Antonijevic Hahn
Alejandro Ferreiro Yazigi
March 11-July 14, 2006
July 14, 2006-present
Minister of Planning & Cooperation Clarisa Hardy Raskovan PS March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Education Martín Zilic Hrepic
Yasna Provoste Campillay
March 11-July 14, 2006
July 14, 2006-present
Minister of Justice Isidro Solís Palma PRSD March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Labor & Social Security Osvaldo Andrade Lara PS March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Public Works Eduardo Bitrán Colodro PPD March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Transportation & Telecommunications Sergio Espejo Yaksic PDC March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Health María Soledad Barría Iroume PS March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Housing & Urbanism Patricia Poblete Bennett PDC March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Public Lands Romy Schmidt Crnosija PPD March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Agriculture Álvaro Rojas Marín PDC March 11, 2006-present
Minister of Mining & Energy Karen Poniachik Pollak Ind. March 11, 2006-present
Minister Director of National Women's Service Laura Albornoz Pollman PDC March 11, 2006-present
National Council of Culture & the Arts Paulina Urrutia Fernández Ind. March 11, 2006-present
Preceded by:
Ricardo Lagos
President of Chile
Succeeded by:

Presidents of Chile Presidential Flag of Chile
Blanco Encalada | Freire | Pinto Díaz | Prieto | Bulnes | Montt Torres | Pérez | Errázuriz Zañartu | Pinto Garmendia | Santa María | Balmaceda | Montt Álvarez | Errázuriz Echaurren | Riesco | Montt Montt | Barros Luco | Sanfuentes | Alessandri Palma | Figueroa | Ibáñez del Campo | Montero | Aguirre Cerda | Ríos | González Videla | Alessandri Rodríguez | Frei Montalva | Allende | Pinochet | Aylwin | Frei Ruiz-Tagle | Lagos | Bachelet

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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